With just one Sunday left in the 2012 NFL regular season, a handful of Super Bowl favorites and legitimate contenders have begun to separate themselves from the pretenders.
In the AFC, Denver, Houston and New England look to be the three biggest threats. While in the NFC, Atlanta, Green Bay and San Francisco boast the necessary ingredients on both sides of the ball to be considered the favorites on the other side of the postseason bracket.
With only 16 games left to play this year, let's take a look at where the six Super Bowl favorites and the rest of the league stand coming into Week 17.
Note: Super Bowl favorites are italicized.
No. 1. Denver Broncos (12-3)
Denver has won 10 in a row, boasts a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Peyton Manning and a top-10 defense. Heading into Week 17, the Broncos have to be considered the favorite in the AFC to reach Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans.
Say what you want about Denver's easy schedule, but it has beaten everyone it has played since mid October.
Assuming the Broncos top the Chiefs this weekend, they'll earn a first-round bye and host an AFC Divisional showdown this coming January.
No. 2. Atlanta Falcons (13-2)
The Falcons have shown some flaws at times this season, but this winter they will have home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs for the second time in three years, meaning the road to the Super Bowl goes through Atlanta.
We've seen what Aaron Rodgers and the Pack can do at Atlanta in the postseason, but you can bet the Falcons have learned from their past failures and will bring a different attitude into this postseason.
The Dirty Birds are 7-0 at home this season and can finish 8-0 with a win over the reeling Bucs in Week 17. Atlanta may be vulnerable, but no one wants to play it inside the rocking Georgia Dome this January.
No. 3. Green Bay Packers (11-4)
Suddenly, the Green Bay Packers are looking like the cohesive unit that won it all two seasons ago. Aaron Rodgers is lighting up opposing defenses, and the Packers defense is shutting down opponents.
Green Bay is in the midst of a four-game winning streak and has held its opponents to just 13.5 points per game during that time.
The Packers can clinch a first-round bye with a win over the Vikings this weekend. If that happens, they would have to be a real favorite to get back to the big game for the second time in three seasons.
No. 4. Houston Texans (12-3)
Over the last three weeks, the Houston Texans have slipped up on both sides of the ball and now find themselves being questioned by many experts.
Houston has lost two of three, and its defense, which once ranked in the top five, is giving up more and more yards and points while the offense struggles to score any of its own. In their two most recent losses, the Texans have been outscored by a total of 65-20.
Still, if they can beat the Colts on the road this Sunday, they'll clinch home-field throughout the AFC playoffs, thus making their road to Super Bowl XLVII that much easier.
No. 5. New England Patriots (11-4)
The Patriots boast the top scoring differential in the NFL through 16 weeks. New England's offense ranks No. 1 in points and yards as well.
Sure, there are tons of question marks surrounding the Pats defense, but with an offense as deadly as theirs, a second straight trip to the Super Bowl isn't hard to imagine. Plus, New England has the best turnover differential in the league through 16 weeks at plus-23.
No. 6. Seattle Seahawks (10-5)
Seattle made a mighty statement on Sunday night, blasting rival San Francisco. Still, the Seahawks will likely be headed on the road as a Wild Card this postseason, which brings about doubts.
No. 7. San Francisco 49ers (10-4-1)
The Niners took a major step back on Sunday night, getting crushed at Seattle. But before we overreact, it's important to remember that the Seahawks are dominant at home this season (7-0) and that San Francisco is still in the driver's seat to win the NFC West.
Assuming the Niners take care of business at home against Arizona in Week 17, Jim Harbaugh's squad will be hosting a playoff game in the first weekend of January.
With a defense as strong as San Francisco's and an offense with a dynamic playmaker under center, the 49ers have as great a shot as any at making a deep run in the postseason this winter.
No. 8. Washington Redskins (9-6)
Yes, the Redskins have won six in a row. No, they are not a Super Bowl favorite just yet. They still rank 30th against the pass, which won't cut it against the NFC's elite teams.
No. 9. Baltimore Ravens (10-5)
Baltimore finally ended its losing streak against the New York Giants in Week 16, wrapping up the AFC North division. But the Ravens need to put another dominant effort together on Sunday to earn our faith in the playoffs.
No. 10. Indianapolis Colts (10-5)
Andrew Luck broke the record for single-season passing yards by a rookie in Week 16 and also locked his team into the AFC's No. 5 seed.
No. 11. Cincinnati Bengals (9-6)
Despite being 3-5 at the season's midway point, the Bengals have clinched a playoff berth after winning six of their last seven overall. Cincinnati is locked into the AFC's No. 6 seed though, so it'll be on the road on Wild Card Weekend regardless of what happens in Week 17.
No. 12. Minnesota Vikings (9-6)
Adrian Peterson is willing the Vikings to victory week in and week out it seems. Minnesota has won three straight games and can earn a playoff berth with a win over the Packers in Week 17.
It's hard to believe the Vikings are still in the hunt despite fielding such a one-dimensional offense all year long.
No. 13. Chicago Bears (9-6)
Chicago ended its losing streak on Sunday against Arizona, but it may have been too late, as the Bears need another win and help to make the playoffs now.
No. 14. New York Giants (8-7)
The defending Super Bowl champions have been outscored 77-14 over the last two weeks and are in danger of missing the playoffs.
No. 15. New Orleans Saints (7-8)
The Saints are one of only two losing teams with a positive scoring differential this season, and at plus-13, they possess the best differential of any losing team.
No. 16. Dallas Cowboys (8-7)
Dallas is lucky to still be in play for the NFC East division this season. The Cowboys have dropped two of their last four home games this season and will be watching the playoffs from home again this winter if they can't figure out RG3 in Week 17.
No. 17. Miami Dolphins (7-8)
Miami has to be wondering what could have been this season had it not dropped three in a row to the Colts, Titans and Bills in November.
No. 18. St. Louis Rams (7-7-1)
The Rams are the only NFL team sitting at .500 coming into the final week of the regular season. That's not bad for Jeff Fisher in his first year in St. Louis, but also not good.
No. 19. Carolina Panthers (6-9)
Credit the Carolina Panthers. Coming into the season's final weekend, they are the best of the worst by far.
They've won three straight.
No. 20. San Diego Chargers (6-9)
The Chargers deserve a slight boost after winning two of their past three games. Week 16 marks the first time the Bolts have won two games that close together since September.
No. 21. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8)
Don't let Pittsburgh's 7-8 record fool you, this team is in total disarray. The Steelers have lost three straight games overall and five of their past six. They look completely confused offensively, and their defense has struggled all year to force game-changing turnovers.
No. 22. New York Jets (6-9)
It doesn't matter who the Jets start under center. They rank 30th in passing offense this season and have yet to win more than two games in a row.
No. 23. Cleveland Browns (5-10)
The Browns have been brought back down to earth after a late-season three-game winning streak. But if you're looking to find when the season was lost for Cleveland, look no further than its 0-5 start.
No. 24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-9)
What a difference a month makes. The Bucs were 6-4 at one point in November, but are guaranteed to have a losing season after dropping five in a row, looking uncompetitive at times.
No. 25. Tennessee Titans (5-10)
The Titans should be considered lucky to be as high as No. 25 this week. After getting blown out 55-7 by the Packers at Lambeau in Week 16, Tennessee has officially surrendered more than 450 total points this season, most of any team this season coming into Week 17.
No. 26. Buffalo Bills (5-10)
You would never know that the Bills boast the NFL's sixth-ranked rushing offense by their 5-10 record. Nonetheless, Buffalo has lost three in a row, and seven of its past nine games.
No. 27. Arizona Cardinals (5-10)
Arizona snapped its nine-game losing streak against the Lions in Week 15, but it returned to its poor ways this past weekend, losing to the Bears at home.
No. 28. Philadelphia Eagles (4-11)
Philly's loss at home to Washington in Week 16 means that the Eagles will finish 2-6 at Lincoln Financial Field in 2012.
No. 29. Oakland Raiders (4-11)
The Silver and Black have dropped seven of eight and sport a minus-150 scoring differential with one game left to play this season.
No. 30. Detroit Lions (4-11)
The Lions have lost seven straight games, the longest active streak in the NFL.
No. 31. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-13)
The Jags have dropped four in a row, and before their win over the Titans in Week 12, had lost seven straight before that.
No. 32. Kansas City Chiefs (2-13)
Kansas City is tied for the worst record in football and has been outscored by more points than any other team in the league this season (179).
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